A tale of two DPMs and Dahal’s trip to China

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Mar 25, 2017-

No significant deals are likely with China during Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s visit to the northern neighbour, but as he embarked on the trip, he has made some unprecedented moves at home, and credit largely goes to his two deputy prime ministers.

A Cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening was suddenly called off after a row between Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi, also the home minister, and DPM Kamal Thapa, also the federal affairs and local development minister, over seniority. The Cabinet was scheduled to endorse PM Dahal’s China visit. Sources said PM Dahal himself “endorsed” his visit to the northern neighbour.

The Nidhi-Thapa seniority row could not be settled on Thursday as well, and PM Dahal flew to China without naming acting prime minister. This is perhaps for the first time the country is without an acting prime minister during the prime minister’s absence.

PM Dahal has gone to China to attend the Boao Forum for Asia conference which started on Thursday. He is scheduled to address the Forum on Saturday and meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.

As the two DPMs continued to bicker over who should get the acting prime ministership, PM Dahal, according to sources, on Thursday evening, hours before his flight, is learnt to have shot from the hip, telling his two deputies that he “will make phone calls from China… will talk in case of emergency to ‘relevant people’ and run the country”.

PM Dahal on Thursday evening had held a meeting with DPMs Nidhi and Thapa at Baluwatar to talk out the issue. But both his deputies refused to budge from their stances, said an informed source. “If you continue with your claims, I will call from China and pass instructions as and when necessary,” the source quoted PM Dahal as telling his deputies.

Earlier on Thursday, Dahal had held talks with Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and DPM Nidhi, also an NC leader. Dahal initially is learnt to have told the duo that he was positive about delegating his duties to Nidhi as the NC is the largest party in Parliament and the practice also said so. But the entry of DPM Thapa, also the chairman of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), upset the plan, said the source, adding that the prime minister then took a U-turn, saying “protocol related matters involving Thapa and Nidhi will be sorted out” after his return from China.

On the surface the issue may look trivial, as PM Dahal could have decided at his own discretion and chosen any of his two deputies as the acting prime minister. But that did not happen.

PM Dahal, according to sources, chose not to delegate his duties to any of his deputies because he did not want to antagonise any of them, or any of the parties they represent for that matter. “I am in a bit of difficulty over the issue so I am not going to appoint anyone as acting prime minister. Rather I will speak over phone if urgent matters come up during my absence,” the sources quoted Dahal as telling the DPMs.

PM Dahal’s difficulty is but apparent.

He inducted Thapa into the government as DPM on March 9, a day after the agitating Madhes-based warned of withdrawing support, in a move to steer clear of any crisis his government could face. But Thapa’s RPP, the fourth largest force in Parliament, is up in arms after the Election Commission removed “monarchy” and “Hindu state” from its statute on March 17. For PM Dahal, antagonising the RPP could cost him dear, say observers.

The Congress party, which has been with Dahal since August, is his key coalition partner, and he will need the NC at least until local elections set for May 14 are held.

When asked why none of the DPMs was handed over the government baton, PM Dahal’s Administrative Adviser Narayan Dahal told the Post that the prime minister “in fact took a bold decision” and carried his prerogative along with him to China. “He wanted to delegate his duties to one of the DPMs but the row between them would not settle. Now PM Dahal is the in-charge; he can use any means of communication ‘to run the country’ and speak over phone with concerned persons to address urgent matters.”

And the government chief secretary seems to be in the dark about who is the in-charge.

“I have not heard a word from the prime minister; nor have I received any letter about acting prime minister,” Chief Secretary Somlal Subedi told the Post.

Published: 25-03-2017 08:21

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